SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A part-time fry cook and would-be terrorist admitted plotting to blow up a federal courthouse in the Illinois capital city and was sentenced Monday to 28 years in prison.
Michael Finton, 31, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against a federal building in downtown Springfield in September 2009. The blast also was supposed to destroy the nearby office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock.
Although Finton thought he was planning the attack with a member of al-Qaida, he was actually talking to an undercover government agent.
Finton, who also went by the name Talib Islam, parked a van in front of the courthouse, believing the van was packed with explosives. Then he made a cellphone call that he thought would trigger the blast.
But the explosives were fake and the phone call did nothing.
"In pleading guilty, the defendant acknowledges that he attempted to detonate what he believed was an actual bomb with the intent to destroy the Federal Building," said Finton's plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Todd Hinnen, acting assistant attorney general for national security, said Finton is one of several Americans who have tried to commit terrorist acts while "under the influence of a radical and violent ideology."
"This case underscores the need to remain vigilant against the threat posed by homegrown extremism," Hinnen said in a statement.
Finton attorney Clyde Kuehn declined to comment immediately, saying he hadn't seen the government's announcement of the guilty plea.
Finton's case was handled in East St. Louis so he wouldn't face trial in the same building he was accused of trying to bomb.
If convicted on all the original charges, Finton could have gotten life in prison. The 28-year sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge David R. Herndon is a bit longer than penalties in some similar cases.
A man arrested nearly the same time as Finton got 24 years for trying to blow up a Dallas skyscraper. A man who plotted attacks on Washington, D.C., Metro stations was sentenced to 23 years.
At the time of the September 2009 attempt to bomb the Springfield courthouse, Finton was a cook at a Decatur, Ill., restaurant. He attended a local mosque, whose other member said they had never seen any indication of violent intentions.
The tall, redheaded Finton sometimes posted on his MySpace page about his long search for religious faith that took from fundamentalist Christianity to Hinduism to Islam.